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Rose need not hustle to watch ESPN's latest

Here's who should be watching Hustle, ESPN's latest endeavor into the world of movies: you and every other fan still on the fence about whether the movie's subject, Pete Rose, deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here's who should not watch it: Rose himself.

Hustle, which airs at 9 tonight, is by far the most compelling movie ESPN has produced, and wickedly unflattering to Rose.

It shows him as a disloyal, dishonest, womanizing, needy lout who bet on everything, baseball included, and bet on it often while leaving those who placed the bets for him to dangle with his unpaid debts.

While entertaining, Hustle has its failings. For one, it is a hurried oversimplification of Rose's troubles, and admittedly a dramatization based on the 1989 Dowd Report that led to Rose's banishment from baseball.

Second, Tom Sizemore's performance has its moments, but it is less a depiction of Rose than it is a cartoonish caricature.

It is hard to look past the floppy wig Sizemore wears, or his hunched over ape-like walk, neither of which resemble the real thing convincingly.

Both prove to be distractions throughout the movie, as does Rose's constant back-slapping and elbow nudging of idiots-in-crime Paul Janszen (played by Dasah Mihok) and Tommy Giosa (Paul Fauteux).

Rose treats both like children, smoothing over rifts by asking them at least five times in the movie, "Who's better than us? Tell me who? Nobody!" as they respond with high fives.

But the Peter Bogdanovich-directed movie is what it is _ a made-for-TV affair with little depth, a character study rather than a sports story.

There are some liberties taken, a few names changed, some forced drama, but it is hard to turn away from the vile portrayal of Rose as he sinks into the gambling abyss.

Rose is seen gambling on football, basketball and the horses before being convinced by his bookie to lay some bets on baseball.

It is always Janszen doing the dirty work, as Rose hops around in front of the television screaming at a failed layup or a fading horse.

In one scene, Rose is quickly checking his bets with a marker, pausing to sign a baseball and quickly returning to his betting slip.

In another, Janszen sits in the stands with a bucket of popcorn signaling to Rose with his thumbs whether he was winning a bet or losing it because the scoreboard at Riverfront Stadium wasn't working.

But the most damning scene, and one that should cause even the most earnest Rose supporter to pause, shows him telling then-pitching coach Scott Breeden (only identified as Scott) to warm up reliever Rob Murphy. Breeden objects, telling Rose he pitched quite a bit the night before, but the manager insists.

It's made clear to viewers: Rose doesn't want starter Tom Browning, working with a 4-1 lead, to blow a game he has a bet on.

If true, and there's little reason to doubt it, Rose's case for the hall of fame becomes even weaker.

The movie ends with a clip of the real Pete Rose and his interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, when the Reds legend admits he bet on baseball, and his team, punctuating the theme of Hustle.

For years, Rose has been running a political campaign to get into the hall of fame. Hustle is the kind of movie that would cause most candidates to drop out.

Following the movie, ESPN Classic will present a live special called "Hustle: The Rose Debate." The program will be hosted by Jeremy Schaap and will discuss the film and Rose's legacy.